Just a week after 38 people were left injured with eight needing hospital treatment at The Libertines’ Hyde Park concert, crowd control has once again hit the news, this time at Elvis Costello’s Kew Gardens concert as part of the “Kew The Music” series of concerts. After just one song the show was stopped by security after a fish slice in the VIP area was misplaced. Costello pleaded with the audience to “calm down a bit” as fans were dragged over security barriers to avoid spoiling their clothes against a tray of spilled Pimms. Chaos ensued when the Orangery temporarily ran out of Fever Tree tonic water and had to use a lesser brand instead.
Well, okay, perhaps it didn’t quite happen like that.
In fact, after standing for hours in the Glastonbury mud to see Metallica, and enduring the crowd crushes and mosh pits of Motörhead and Black Sabbath shows at Hyde Park, the gentler climes of Kew Gardens were something of a blessed relief.
Yes, that Kew Gardens. Home of horticulture and hotbed of hyacinths, hostas and hydrangeas.
In short, if flora, fauna or fungi are your fancy, Kew Gardens is your place. Or as Elvis Costello put it, “I love the smell of magnolias when I’m playing guitar….”
Perhaps less well appreciated is Kew’s rock n roll credentials. And there’s a reason for that. It doesn’t have any. The day after Costello, they’re putting on a headline performance for Bjorn Again. It’s safe to say The Who didn’t play their first shows here. We might not be too far geographically speaking from Richmond, but an iridescent summer’s evening with Kew’s glistening hothouses as a backdrop is some distance from the sweaty pub that formed the scene of The Rolling Stones’ early performances.
But at a time when VIP areas are being questioned as divisive and potentially dangerous by cramming more of us “ordinary” punters into a smaller space*, Kew The Music is laying on a show where pretty much everywhere is a VIP area. As far as the eye can see are picnic blankets, camping chairs, bottles of Pimms, Bags For Life and trays of drinks. Instead of a mosh-pit, there’s a fire-pit for a barbecue.
There’s also an entire hospitality area roped off for John Lewis staff and customers. But by not stuffing the place with sixty thousand people, everyone is comfortable. It’s almost (dare we say it) civilised.
And everyone is here to see the incredibly under-appreciated Elvis Costello, who has infiltrated this nest of John Lewis-sponsored comfort with his down to earth songs and the subversion of “Shipbuilding”…
Audience members of Elvis Costello shows are part of a secret society. It’s a club that knows they are witnessing one of Britain’s greatest rock n rollers reach new peaks in his live performance. Because an Elvis Costello show is one of Life’s Great Joys. He’s a songwriter who can stand toe to toe (or song to song) with Paul McCartney and Ray Davies. He is still putting his heart and soul into making his shows enormously entertaining.
Tonight, he has left his band behind, along with the go-go girls, lounge area and spinning song wheel (see my review of last year’s show). There’s no drum kit: it’s just Elvis onstage, with a guitar or two and his songs, including openers “Red Shoes”, “Accidents will Happen” and “Green Shirt”.
“Veronica” (co-written with Paul McCartney) makes an early appearance, alongside “New Amsterdam”, which incorporates The Beatles’ “You’ve got to hide your love away”. Before it dawns on you how many great songs Costello has, he’s already run through “Every day I Write the Book” and just to rub it in, Costello plays “Watching the Detectives” solo – with just a loop pedal to accompany him, and reverts to piano for a gorgeous “Shipbuilding”.
“Oliver’s Army” is next, with help from support act The McManus brothers, and then perhaps the most appropriate song of the evening, “A Good Year for the Roses”. I half expected Kew Gardens staff to come onstage and argue that actually conditions had been less than ideal for rose-growing in 2014…
Elvis was joined for the last half dozen songs by slide guitarist Megan Lovell and Rebecca Lovell on mandolin, (both from support band Larkin Poe) and the show rounded off with “Hoover Factory”, “Alison”, “Long Distance Love” and “Peace, Love and Understanding”.
Fireworks exploded overhead for a perfect finale. I know, it’s not really very rock n roll, but just for once, I liked it.
Oh, and put money on the Christmas John Lewis advert being an Elvis Costello song…
* This criticism was levelled at the Hyde Park organisers, who countered that barriers saved lives by splitting the crowd in two. To be fair, I had a better view of the Hyde Park gigs than people who paid extra for the “VIP area” did, as they were all thirty yards back and to the side of the stage.
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